A teenage driver was killed in Wisconsin in a crash that police say may have been caused by another driver who had both hands on her cellphone, not the steering wheel.
Kyra Faith Hayes of Beldenville, Wisconsin died on Friday afternoon on Highway 35 near Troy, after she rolled her Oldsmobile Bravada when another vehicle drifted into her lane.
The St. Croix County Sheriff's Office said a Ford Taurus being driven by a 21-year-old woman from Big Lake, Minnesota forced Hayes to take the evasive action that caused her to lose control and roll her car.
Hayes wasn't wearing a seatbelt and was ejected from her car. But a witness told police that seconds before the crash, the Taurus driver had both her hands on her cellphone.
The driver, who was accompanied by a 22-year-old passenger from Minneapolis, returned to the scene of the crash after turning around in a crossover.
No action has been taken at this stage, with the incident still under investigation.
Sheriff's Capt. Jeff Klatt told the Star Tribune that witness statements suggest the 21-year-old driver didn't have either hand on the wheel and "wasn't steering at all" in the moments before veering into Hayes' lane.
According to a GoFundMe page, Hayes was a sophomore at Ellsworth High School and worked at a local shop run by her father.
The dangers of distracted driving
In Wisconsin, much like Minnesota, it is illegal to send a text, email, or access the internet while behind the wheel.
According to DrivingLaws, "distracted driving" is illegal in Wisconsin, but – again like Minnesota – this doesn't translate to a blanket ban on cellphone use, with everyone other than recently permitted drivers allowed to speak on the phone as they drive.
Texting and driving isn’t the only distraction drivers face. Adjusting music, eating or drinking, and reading, among other tasks, can cause drivers to take their attention off the road, which can be dangerous or even fatal.
In Minnesota, distracted driving contributes to around one in every four crashes in the state. The Department of Public Safety says from 2010-2014, distracted driving-related crashes resulted in 328 people being killed and 1,138 people suffering life-changing injuries.
Wisconsin Public Radio reports that distracted driving crashes rose by 8.2 percent between 2014 and 2015 and accounts for 16 percent of all Wisconsin traffic deaths in 2015, up from 14 percent a year earlier.
A Network of Employers for Traffic Safety report found that distracted driving-related crashes cost employers $8.2 billion in 2013. The cost included medical care, lost productivity and property damage.